A growing number of warehouses, factories and construction sites are integrating exoskeleton devices into their daily operations to reduce injury, of course, but to also increase productivity. Such exoskeletons are designed to augment, restore or reinforce human performance.
According to MachineDesign, exoskeletons bring worker centrality to the factories of the future, helping to support workers and improve the quality of their working hours. Ever since the First Industrial Revolution, manufacturers have been harnessing technology to make things better, cheaper and faster. Now, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution in front of us, the focus is evolving from pure technology to the creation of humanized technology.
Assisting human workers as they perform repetitive and manual tasks is a key goal of exoskeleton companies in light of a globally-aging workforce and the fatigue associated with such manufacturing tasks. Exoskeletons — the emblem of worker centrality – are helping companies respond to this challenge in new and innovative ways.
For example, arm support exoskeletons are lightweight, breathable, and ergonomically-designed to adhere to the human body just like a second skin. As such, this wearable exoskeleton offers advanced and consistent anti-gravitational assistance during manual, repetitive and strenuous tasks. Because it moves with the wearer and effectively transfers weight away from the wearer’s shoulders, it leads to a 30 percent reduction in strain on the main shoulder muscles, thereby reducing the strain of performing overhead tasks, such as assembling, drilling, operating vibrating hand tools, and retrieving products from higher shelves and conveyor lines.
The result? Reduced muscular effort, improved posture, more productivity, and improved well-being.
The Challenges of Exoskeletons
While exoskeletons allow for enhanced ability, mobility has always been a particular design challenge. Powering the exoskeleton means the worker has to be tethered to some kind of power source. However, today’s newer designs have lower power requirements, using only small battery units that can last for up to eight hours on one charge. In addition, batteries can be hot-swapped, with little to no downtime required.
Exoskeletons of a few years ago indeed improved the wearer’s capabilities; however, they slowed down their movements. Workers had to be trained on how they could get the exoskeleton to move as they wanted it to. Today, predictive algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) now mean there’s no latency between the movements of the worker and the response of the exoskeleton. The result? Exoskeletons can function intuitively in real-time depending on the movements of the user, just about eliminating the learning curve, says Control Engineering.